Brain Drain and Brain Waste

Two  days ago, I wrote a post on ” Gain back excellence for our universities” in response to a piece of news in Malaysiakini on the slide of rankings of our local universities.

One of my fellow bloggers, diffodils, who has an excellent blog at My Space, and whom I suspect is a lecturer, wrote a very thought provoking comment on this post. She said:

 There are a good many students with CGPA above 3.5 in STPM studying in our public universities. They are there because of the high cost of studying overseas. Of course there are also those who got in through an easier route.

I feel sorry for those good students that because of the low rank of our public unis, they lose their competitive edge. I am quite sure these students if given funding to study overseas will definitely measure up.

She has hit the Jackpot there by pointing out a very grave consequence of poor academic tertiary standard. 

One of the grave consequences of our universities having a poor academic standard would be a phenomenon which I call “Brain Waste”.

In my reply to her, I wrote about the Brain Waste:

There are so many good students studying in Form 6 STPM, and these students , if given a chance to be trained in a good university, can become world class experts in their respective fields.

It is really a waste of talents that many of these can’t get into the streams of their choice, and even if they do, they are unable to compete with those overseas because of the poor standards of teaching in local universities. The sad thing is they can’t afford to go overseas, mainly because they are not rich and unable to get scholarships.

We have Brain Drain of those studying overseas and do not want to come back.

This is Brain Waste when we have world class materials but because of the poor decaying standards in our universities, these world class materials cannot realise their potentials.

We need meritocracy in our university. We need meritocracy in our faculty members. We cannot afford to have 2nd class lecturers and professors if we want our universities to excel. Lecturers’ employment and promotion must be strictly on their merits and nothing else.

It i s just like the judiciary. We cannot expect to have an independent judiciary if appointments can be arranged behind the scene.

Brain waste is as serious as brain brain, because in both cases we lose talents.

Human Resource is the most important asset a nation has;  more important than physical assets like minerals or petroleum, which are depletable. A country can have the most sophisticated equipment, but as I have written before, a gadget is only as good as the person handling it.

Human resource,  if well utilised,  can often make a difference in the development and advancement of a nation and a people. The First World is First World mainly because of the high academic standards there which can make a raw stone into a gem, figuratively speaking.

In general, most countries in the world has become better compared to 50 years ago, except for the sub-Sahara African nations. There are many African countries which have very rich resources, with minerals, gold, diamonds and so on. These countries, however, have become worse off after many decades of independence, partly because the Human resource factor is not well developed. A raw stone there remains a raw stone, with no hope of becoming a gem, figuratively speaking again.

What is the point of having hundreds of high IQ and intelligent students when the training they receive cannot make them world class talents? It will be like Sub-Sahara Africa, Burma, Cambodia or to a lesser extent Indonesia, where the graduates there cannot even compete  with an undergraduate students from one of the better universities in the world.

I hope I won’t see the day that our universities become an also-run like some of the so-called universities in third world countries. SOme of the doctors trained there cannot even read medical journals , so what advancement can you talk about when medical knowledge increases by leaps and bounds every other month? Similarly, would you trust a third world country engineer to do a big project for you, when that fellow may not even be able to keep up with the advances in the engineering world because of the poor command of language?

Brain Waste will lead us to this stage eventually, if we don’t buck up.

At the moment, despite the drops of rankings of our universities, the is still hope. I would say they are still among the middle rungs, even though they are outside the top 200.

But Once the rot has become gangrenous, it would be next to impossible to turn back.

We need to change our education system. We need to do it now!!

Recommended readings:

Gain back excellence in our universities

A gadget is only as good as a person handling it

Bring back the glory

What has happened to us?

Excellence – Have we lost the urge?


13 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. monsterball
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 14:40:49

    Doc….When come to education…choosing the best of all Malaysians to enter Universities…there was never real sincerity at all from UMNO.
    That’s why Malaysians of Chinese and Indian origins slogged….save all their working lives to send their smart children overseas for further studies in Universities.
    Very sad..are plenty smart chinese…coming from poor families…that should have won a scholarships in local Universities..but were rejected…..
    How to gain back excellence in our Universities…when they are somewhat run by unfair programs… race and religions are clearly seen seperating all the students…yet Chancellors never do anything about it.
    But once awhile…wayang kulit show starts from UMNO..telling UNI lecturers to wake up….then heads of UNI talk same languange…and then after awhile….knowing public easily forget…. do same method done for 50 years all over again….no change….race and religion….plus standard of teaching and subjects to learn are so low…so that even the weak can pass and get the degrees easily.
    As long as Universities are managed by political parties…and not really a commercial enterprise…like in Australia….we can never be recognised and respected at all.


  2. HJ Angus
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 14:42:37

    I agree with you wholeheartedly.

    By churning out tens of thousands of unemployable graduates we also place a burden on their families and society.

    Many of these should be taught at technical schools and polytechnics to fill up many posts at the middle levels and that will also reduce the demand for foreign labour.

    No use being a graduate in a discipline that the job market scorns.


  3. hsudarren
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 15:54:25

    Education should be left to the educationists and politicians should never meddle in the running of universities.

    That is why in the west, most of the good universities are autonomous, even though they may receive part of their fundings from government.

    I think we should help the weaker students from rural areas by giving them extra classes and extra tutorials since they are at an disadvantage as rural areas may not have as good facilities as the urban people. Apart from extra tutorials and extra classes, students should be left to compete on an even basis, that is where competition will bring about excellence.

    This applies to the urban poor too, as the poor may not be able to afford private tuitions and so on. Give them extra help in the form of extra lessons , but they have to go thru the same exam and same marking system to compete fairly.

    I sincerely believe that our rural brothers are clever and if given extra tutorials and extra classes to offset their disadvantages of staying in rural areas, I am sure they can be as good as any people.

    For those in urban schools, they should compete on an equal basis regardless of ethnic groups. But the poor from urban areas should be given free extra lessons as they are at an dsiadvantage too.

    That way , we can have meritocracy for everyone and they will study hard to achieve excellence.


  4. meltingpot
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 16:07:57

    Five years ago, when my children talk about migrating, they get an earful from me. Seeing the direction and speed our country is sliding into oblivion, they now go with my blessing.


  5. hsudarren
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 16:24:32

    Migrating is not a good option but i understand individual needs and aspirations are different and i respect their decision.

    Foir me, i will stay and try to do my little bit to change the people’s mindsets.

    I believe that all people, regardless of ethnic groups , can be influenced to see that we need a fair and equitable society which in the long run will benefit all the peole regardless of race.

    As minority race, we must change the mindsets of our brothers making up the majority group, so that they can effect change from within. Believe me, many of the younger generations in the majority group is not happy with the divisive policies and the direction the country is moving. Tha is what gives me hope, being the optimist that i am.

    That is why we need to be multiracial in our talks and out look.


  6. Red ribbon
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 17:14:29

    The public pays too much emphasis on crumbling public universities. Dont flog a dead horse. It doesnt do anyone any good. Every Malaysian parent must now focus on supporting some of the upcoming private universities. This is the way forward. Brooding over this government’s inefficiency will be another 30 years waste of time……


  7. richard poon
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 18:21:35

    Doc, when my son came back to Malaysia after his overseas education, first thing he did was to apply to Malaysia’s largest bank. He was told only bumis need to apply. He asked me why is this so? What can I tell him? Except that’s the way it is in this country. Thankfully, he got another job with another bank. Now he has been offered a job in a foreign country. If our country do not value their own talent and still practise policies very much out of tune with a globalised world, policies that are not workable any more, I am afraid more youngsters will leave.


  8. hsudarren
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 21:00:31

    Mr Richard Poon, you son is not alone. i have come across many similar stories . That is why some of the brightest are now overseas, Brain drain while other countires gain -Brain Gain.

    The NEP has been abused. We need to know the methodology of how they calculate the stake under the NEP.

    It should have been ended long ago. It has outlived its usefulness.

    I agree with you that more youngsters will leave if the present situation is not corrected.


  9. A true Malaysian
    Nov 14, 2007 @ 23:51:51

    I agreed with you, Dr. Hsu that migration is not a good option. Reason being that our roots are here in Malaysia. We must tell our Malay brothers that our roots are here in Tanah Melayu and no where else.

    Very often, the Malays have the wrong perception that Malaysian of other races don’t treat Malaysia as their homeland and thus, they have such thinking that if you people not happy with Malaysia, then can go elsewhere, since you people don’t regard Malaysia as your homeland. So, it is our duty correct this wrong perception.

    All of us must accept the fact that, for Malaysia to change for the better and progress further, the majority race, Malay, need to change their mindset. I can see this ‘new Malay’ in many of the bloggers. So, let us all Malaysian work together towards this direction. If we can succeed in this, then automatically we can achieve first world status. There is no point to have visions like Vision 2020 if we don’t change our mindset.


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  11. hsudarren
    Nov 15, 2007 @ 10:16:02

    A true Malaysain, you have hit the nail on its head.

    We need to let the majority group know that we are their brothers,. In fact , all men are brothers.

    we need to change the mindset of the people to make this country great.I will be so proud if one day Malaysia will be regarded as one of the top nations in the world.

    That is why I often say that although my voice is small, if 5 people can be influenced by me, I have accomplished what I set out to do. The 5 can go on to influence 5 each.

    The power of the pen (blog nowadays) cannot be underestimated.

    Like you have said, many in the younger generations have great ideals and a great sense of fairness. This the the silver lining on our dark cloud, and hopefully, in another generation’s time, we will be a great nation admired by all the world.


  12. monsterball
    Nov 15, 2007 @ 15:28:24

    It is a very sad..but real facts of life in Malaysia.
    That’s why all of us must do something to change….not migrate.
    This is a lovely country….one of the best in the world.
    Don’t let race and religion dirty politics chase us out.
    We are all Malaysians…no such thing as second class citizen….since Merdeka time.
    It’s all cooked up by politicians…taking advantage over the Constitutions….
    while they go on with their corrupted ways.
    As long as certain race is happy….they feel safe to cheat and rob…but now majority of this race are no fools.
    So be patient..don’t migrate…be brave and think of the country…not think of your own personal benefits only.


  13. Pozd
    Nov 16, 2007 @ 19:25:39

    I’m a student in a private university in Malacca, and I have to say that the quality of education provided is very poor.

    Many lecturers, especially the local, are very unprofessional in their work. They treat us like primary children who are forced to go to school!

    I paid a large sum of money to this private university , and in return I expect the value for my money.

    The lack of professionalism (especially those who have been with the university since it started in 1997) is astonishing! It happens almost everyday and everywhere. (reminds me of the service in the public sector *grins*)

    An example from today, it is the university’s practice to delay all classes after 2pm by half an hour for Friday prayers. We had a class which starts at 4.30pm but we went in early at 4pm. The lecturer was already there. She started the class with just a handful of students at 4pm. Then at 4.30 the rest of the class arrived, she realized that it was Friday. She even went to blame us for not informing her even though we already told her so earlier when she started the class!

    The least she could do was to admit her mistake. But instead she to shifted the blame to the student! From what I heard, this lack of professionalism happens everywhere from admin staff to teaching staff, top to bottom, faculty to faculty.

    This is the culture of the “World Class University” wannabe. I’m sure it is sending the wrong signal to the students studying here about professionalism. It is also giving a negative perception to the foreign students studying here which makes up of 20% of the student population

    (Don’t get me start to comment on the quality of the lectures!)


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